People assumed a woman in a wheelchair couldn't get pregnant — but it was her husband who was infertile
- Paralympian Mallory Weggemann and her able-bodied husband, Jay Snyder, had trouble conceiving.
- Weggemann, who is paralyzed, faced stigma around parenting. But it was her husband who was infertile.
At age 18, Mallory Weggemann went to the hospital to receive an epidural injection for back pain — and left six weeks later paralyzed from the procedure-gone-wrong.
"There were so many questions in the weeks and months and, frankly, years to follow: What does a future look like for me in terms of a career, in terms of continuing my education, in terms of relationships, a family?" Weggemann, now a Paralympic swimmer, said on an April episode of the Pregnantish podcast.
Specifically, Weggemann, who's used a wheelchair in the 15 years since, worried that conceiving and delivering biological children would be a challenge. She'd internalized some of the social stigma toward parents with disabilities.
"It not only comes down to can you physically bear children, get pregnant, carry a pregnancy, and deliver a child, but there's still so much of society that views it as, 'What type of mother could you be in that process?'" Weggemann told podcast host Andrea Syrtash. "And so I think that that was always a burden and a hurdle that I carried."
But after meeting her husband, Jay Snyder, in 2011, Weggemann was ready to confront her concerns. The couple visited doctors and learned Weggemann's paralysis wouldn't directly affect her fertility — but it was her husband who had infertility.
"We will never forget: We were on a plane in Salt Lake City flying to an event and got the test results," Snyder said on the podcast. "And we looked at those results, and we stared at them, stared at each other, and just broke."
Snyder had azoospermia, or no sperm in his semen, likely related to a surgery he had undergone when he was 13. "We grieved, and we put a bit of a pin in it," Weggemann said.
Both she and Snyder, who works in sports media, went to the 2020 Paralympic Games in Tokyo, which ended up being held in 2021 due to the pandemic. Weggemann earned two gold and one silver medal.
"In going into Tokyo, our motto was 'protect the dream,'" Weggemann said. "We really leaned into saying, 'Tokyo is a journey that we are doing as a family. And while Little One is not physically in existence yet, Little One is a part of every single decision that we're making right now, and they are a part of this journey.'"
After the Games, Weggemann and Snyder were ready to pursue parenthood. Snyder underwent an invasive sperm-retrieval surgery with a 40% success rate. It worked.
In all, Weggemann underwent 18 months of IVF, including 707 injections, two ovarian stimulation cycles, two egg retrievals, two months of hormone treatment for suspected endometriosis, and two embryo transfers, per People, before becoming pregnant.
Weggemann delivered their daughter, Charlotte, in March 2023.
She told Syrtash, who she spoke to before the birth, that the experience has emphasized that two seemingly competing truths can exist at once.
"It's OK to have adversity with joy — it doesn't mean you're ungrateful. And it's OK to find joy in the grief, it doesn't mean that you're in denial," she said.
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